I love you and I’m sorry.

My wife is a therapist at a community heath clinic that primarily serves the LGBTQIA+ community. Many of her clients are queer kids, teenagers, and young adults. Because she’s a great professional with a lot of integrity, I don’t know peoples’ names or specifics about them, but like most people, we spend a fair amount of time talking about “how was your day” sorts of things in the evening.

I can’t tell you how many times she tells me stories of harm done to young people by their families, friends, communities, and churches because they are LGBTQIA+. Stories of suicide and self-harm attempts. Stories of deeply held shame. Stories of fractured family relationships and kids who are homeschooled because of how they’re treated when they go see people who once were their friends and people who still care about God but are no longer welcome in their churches. Stories of people with deeply held confidence that God doesn’t love them because they are trans. People who are hurting so, so badly.

I have tried to be a loving friend to and advocate for queer people throughout my ministry. To say and do things that are helpful to make a space for queer people in the church. I’ve tried to demonstrate to people faithful ways to read the Bible that aren’t “traditionalist.” And so I want to say something helpful and kind and hope-giving. But…

In most of the Bible studies I have taught and in every conversation I have had with people new to following Jesus and reading the Bible, we end up talking about, “But what do you say when it’s really bad?” They ask this because people have said things to them like “everything happens for a reason,” “God has a plan,” or “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” These aren’t the right words, and they speak to a way of talking about God that places blame. So I’ll say the only thing that’s appropriate to say in situations of harm and pain:

Jesus loves you, I love you, and I’m sorry.

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I am in you and you are in me

On that day you will know that I am in my Father, you are in me, and I am in you.

John 14:20 (CEB)

I had a seminary professor who had a prayer practice that always impressed me. Dr. Taussig did a lot of commuting on trains, and whenever he found himself on a commuter line or in a subway car, he would look at every person on the train with him while repeating his translation of Jesus’s words from this passage in John.

“I am in you, and you are in me, as we are in God.”

I am at the United Methodist General Conference in Saint Louis. On day one, I mostly got checked into my AirBnB, registered for a name tag, and tried to figure out how to understand everything that’s going on. It feels a little like the first time I showed up at a meeting of the Texas Annual Conference as a wide-eyed 21-year-old totally overwhelmed by what was around me, but times about 1000. I listened to a lay delegate from Liberia  and a lay delegate from Portland talking about LGBTQ people, how much they both love scripture and Jesus, and their shared deep love for the UMC.

I have been praying and fasting in preparation for this General Conference along with many of the wonderful people from St. Stephen’s in Houston for 3 weeks now. My first prayer is that the Holy Spirit would descend upon this place and surprise all of us. My second prayer has been that all of us who call ourselves United Methodist might remember that, as Jesus reminds us, we belong to him and we belong to each other.

Of the various pieces and parts of legislation in front of the General Conference, I find the One Church Plan to be the best option for our future. Like all things created by humans — especially humans in committees — it’s imperfect. But it does a couple things that I find to fit my understanding of a strong Wesleyan Christian ethic:

It trusts local churches to do ministry together. For years I’ve heard church leaders talk about how the UMC “has to keep this issue out of the local church.” I can’t understand why. People who authentically do life together over the course of years are much better prepared to disagree with love and faithfulness than people who meet infrequently for the sake of legislating. This is because people in a local church understand that they belong to each other on a deeper level. The people of St. Stephen’s have been talking about the future of our church for months now, and we represent a wide array of different opinions. But we love each other and we want to share a future together.

It privileges a united future. Many people find it impossible to see how a church can move forward without a single clear sexual ethic. However, many people also feel as if people who love and follow Jesus have lived together and faithfully followed him across broad and significant disagreement as long as people have followed Jesus. Most of Paul’s ministry was working to convince people they could, in fact, live together faithfully even when they differed wildly. Under the One Church Plan, people who want to stay deeply connected, even if they disagree, have the opportunity to do that. I find it compelling to allow the people who want to move forward together the best opportunity to do that, which is, in my opinion, the One Church Plan.

As I’m sure you know, I could be wrong. (About a lot of things, not just my preferred future for United Methodist polity.) But I also know that I’m NOT wrong in praying fervently for the Holy Spirit to descend on Saint Louis. I love the people God has connected me to through the United Methodist Church. Many of them are people who I never would have encountered anywhere else, and I’m a better Christian and human because I am in them, and they are in me. As we are in God.

 

–N